The Streak, Dell's Android jumbo-phone going on sale today?

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If the rumors are correct, the Dell Streak is going on sale (pre-orders only) today for people who signed up to be notified of when the phone (tablet?) becomes available. Is that clear to you? Because it really isn't to me. Dell certainly knows how to obfuscate a launch. The sign-up period was supposed to run from July 20-27th, and a few sites are sourcing a blog post at Direct2Dell that has since been removed. Probably Engadget has the best info of what used to be there.

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What we do know is that when the Streak ships, it'll run you $299 with a 2-year AT&T contract, or $549.99 off contract. The Streak is a curious beast. Its 5" screen makes it seem too big to be considered a phone, but too small to really be thought of as a tablet. As a phone it seems fairly pricey on-contract, considering you can get a state-of-the-art Android phone for $199 with a 2-year contract. The $549.99 off-contract price seems about right, or even cheaper than some phones. (Verizon lists the off-contract price of the Droid X as $569.99.) Or you can treat it like a tablet. Compared to the 3G iPad (which starts at $629) it seems cheap, but then it only has a 5" screen. On the other hand you can make a phone call with it.

All in all the Streak just seems like a confusing device. To make matters worse, it'll ship with Android 1.6, which at this point is a fairly ancient version of the OS. Dell promises an update to Froyo soon, but nothing more specific than that. The track record of Android device manufacturers and the time period of "soon" isn't at all encouraging; I'll count on the Streak getting Froyo when Dell announces it is rolling out the update, and not a moment before.

My advice, admittedly based on no hands-on experience at all, is to take a wait-and-see attitude on the Streak. Let's see how quickly Froyo hits the phone, and how quickly the price drops, unless you're really dying for a phone that won't fit in your pocket, or a micro-tablet that makes phone calls. I'm as eager as anyone to see a good Android tablet hit the marketplace, but I don't think the Streak is there yet. I've heard rumors that Dell has a larger form-factor Streak on the way, and that might wind up being the preferable device to own. Plus if you wait a while you might be able to get it in red (see video below).

I know a lot of people dislike Apple's iron-fisted approach to i-devices and their 'walled garden' approach to software, but one thing is sure: it's a lot less confusing to hit the Apple store, drink the Kool-Aid and buy an iPhone or an iPad than it is to try to determine what the right Android device is for your needs. Between juggling screen sizes and amounts of memory and CPU speeds and OS versions and what's out now vs what's coming out Any Day Now...it's enough to drive the average consumer right into Apple's cult. Google (in my opinion) needs to start pressuring device manufacturers to release hardware with current versions of Android, at the very least. When it's less confusing to buy a new laptop than it is to buy a "user-friendly" tablet or phone, something is definitely wonky.

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